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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I think the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is that we could achieve the same end by keeping Sections 72 and 74 and amending them specifically for British Energy. The reason for not doing so is that those sections are completely out of date and are quite random in their effect. In that context, it makes total sense to have a clean sweep of what is now outdated and rather arbitrary legislation in terms of its impact.
The provisions are narrowly defined and relate only to a small number of companiesthe successor companies created in the industry restructuring privatisation. They apply only to that small number of specific companies as companies, and not to any wider corporate group of which they may now be part, or, indeed, to any new companies. Therefore, this seems a good momentif we are going to amend the provisionto do a clean sweep and bring this legislation up to date.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: If one is in a hole, one should stop digging. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, he seems to be digging himself into an ever deeper hole. Quite rightly, he says that Sections 72 and 74 dealt with the predecessors to the successor companies and that the Government were limiting their powers to a small shareholding in any of the successor companies.
I do not believe that Parliament should allow this to go by. We cannot vote in Grand Committee, but I make it clear that we shall want to return to this matter at a later stage. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Government have sought to explain their wish to deal with the matter by order by saying that it would give them more time to examine the position in detail and, as the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, told us at Second Reading, consult stakeholders to make sure that there are no untoward consequences of any repeals that they have in mind. That may be a reasonable way to proceed, but Amendment No. 11 would make certain that any such action would be subject to affirmative resolution.
For the life of me, I cannot see why the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, could not accept the amendment. He has said that that is what the subsection means. Why not accept the amendment? I beg to move.
As my noble friend said, our amendment is a simple drafting amendment that would in no way affect or detract from the operation of the Act. It would remove an ambiguity, so that there could be no possible misunderstanding or disagreement about what Parliament intends. Clause 2(2) gives the Secretary of State power to amend by order the provisions of Part II of the Electricity Act 1989. Clause 2(3) gives the Secretary of State power to make,
We should not legislate in a way that creates a need for esoteric rules of construction to interpret what Parliament is saying. Nor should that interpretation depend on the application of legalistic semantics. I still recall, as I mentioned, the lengthy battle about the words "or otherwise". I am tempted to repeat it, but I ought not to; I do not want to irritate the Minister before he stands up.
Before the Minister tells me, as he frequently does, that my amendment is unnecessary, I ask him to humour me on this occasion by adding just four clarifying wordswhether they are necessary or not, as he may sayto the clause. It will not expend so much paper and ink as to cause an ecological disaster. My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding said that he had already mentioned that. It would be neither a political defeat nor a rebuff to the draftsman. It would be just belt and braces, and, although I wear neither, I hope that the Minister will remove the ambiguity, however remote he believes it to be.
Subsections (2) and (3) introduce a power to repeal the remainder of Part II of the Electricity Act 1989. Part II is concerned with the reorganisation of the electricity industry from its old nationalised structure to the successor companies, which were then sold into the private sector. As such, it contains a large number of provisions for transferring assets from the old bodies to the new companies; provisions to abolish the old bodies; provisions to finance the successor companies while they remained in the public sector; and, ultimately, provisions to sell the shares in those successor companies into the private sector. In short, that part was a set of transitional provisions that enabled the privatisation of the industry.
Subsections (2) and (3) provide a delegated power to repeal provisions of Part II, provisions that were designed to be transitional in nature and are now outdated. We are doing that for two reasons. First, we are already, through subsection (1), repealing Sections 72 and 74 of the Act. We want to guard against any unintended consequences caused by interactions between those sections and the rest of that part. We want to be careful that nothing in the remainder of the part could act as an obstacle to the contingency plans that we have in place.
Secondly, as we are already repealing Sections 72 and 74, and as we want a power to repeal any other provision in that part that might act as an obstacle, it is a sensible opportunity to take a power to repeal the whole of Part II. That is a sensible approach to tidying up old legislation that is no longer applicable. We are taking a delegated power to do that, to make sure that we have time to go through Part II in detail and check whether any of the provisions that it includes do or should still have lasting effect.